The Cookie Cutter Life

Confession: This is going to be a bit of a rant. 

I have been reprimanded. Quite soundly. I prefer not to go into detail in this all-comers medium, however I am really bothered by the whole incident. It has occupied more of my conscious life than I have the patience for, and has left me pondering this problem: does human life fit with a systems-based approach?  Turning the crystal another way, does the human tendency to construct rigid order (like micromanaging people, implementing draconian laws, etc.) stifle our creativity, our ingenuity, and some of the other more nebulous and subjective elements which help us feel happy and satisfied in life?

In design theory, constraints often serve to help designers. To take a over-simplified example, think of the last time you tried to coordinate a dinner, or plan an outing.  Big vague questions tend to yield big diffuse answers.

Consider this:
“What do you want to do this weekend?”
“Oh, I don’t know.  Maybe go out.”
Versus this:
“I’d really like to get outside this weekend.  What do you think?”
“We haven’t been to the beach in a while. Or we could go hiking.”

Here “get outside” acts as the constraint.  The response is still a little wishy washy, but it’s far more concrete than the other scenario.

In another example, the order and constraints imposed by roads is constructive in a lot of obvious ways.  Roads help prevent accidents (although poor design can foil this benefit).  They expedite travel, foster good will among people who would otherwise run each other over, protect the land outside of the roads from being trambled and eroded by the heavy-footed falls of thousands of human beings.  But… roads also tell us where we can go, and where we can’t.  The building of them can damage just as much as they protect, and irrevocably alter a landscape, a community, a planet.


Edinburgh ©JL Colomb

In contrast, the fractal patterns of nature, the order derived from natural processes rather than human imposed structure, soothes and inspires us. To be outside of earshot of cars, alarms, sirens, to be out of artificial lighting and false days restores us.  It refreshes us, and makes us more sensitive to ourselves and the world around us.  At least, that’s what it does for me.


Order and Chaos ©JL Colomb

But these are lofty considerations of order and chaos.  The real meat of my angst is the imposition of micromanagement in the name of attaining order to adjudicate a perceived problem, and the impacts that tack has on morale, productivity, and creativity.

Creativity and innovation are often touted as among the most important qualities of an individual or business environment; however, organizations often stifle, thwart and otherwise crush them through absurd policies, rigid thinking and other constraints. Business management and organizational change consultants, like Torben Rick, cite “internal process focus” and micromanagement among other obstacles to creativity.


Stacks ©JL Colomb

Not only is it a barrier, but articles on micromanagement detail its deleterious effects, such as demotivation, loss of trust, decreased confidence, and related emotional and economic stressors.

You know what?  They’re right.  It’s been quite some time since I’ve felt this demoralized and humiliated by another’s control over me.  I realize rules and structure have a purpose, however for people who care, who work hard and pour some of themselves into everything they do, dogmatic environments are insulting.

I like routine, I like structure, but not when it’s dictated to me without a cogent, rationale dialogue and mutual agreement.

And the impact on creativity?  We’ll have to see in the longterm. In general I think it’s responsive to constraints, however not to an engineered, and overly fabricated and regulated mode of existence.  I’m a wait-and-see kind of person.  Often problems resolve themselves, but if they don’t I am the architect of my own life, and change is always an answer.


One thought on “The Cookie Cutter Life

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